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New Jersey Corruption Keeps U.S. Attorney Busy

New Jersey U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie has prosecuted more than 120 officials on corruption charges since 2001.
William Thomas Cain
New Jersey U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie has prosecuted more than 120 officials on corruption charges since 2001.

When it comes to prosecuting corruption cases, New Jersey U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie has been busy. Recently, 11 officials, including members of the Pleasantville school board, were charged with accepting bribes.

Meanwhile, municipal judges are being investigated for fixing tickets for friends. And the mayor of Atlantic City has resigned and could be investigated for claiming that he was a member of the Green Berets.

Christie, who's never lost a corruption case in six years on the job, keeps a running tally of the officials he's prosecuted. By his count, he's at 126. Sitting in his office in Newark, he remembers some of the hard-to-believe cases he's worked on.

There's Ray O'Grady, former mayor of Middletown Township, who was videotaped taking bribes from an undercover FBI agent. There was the mayor of Burlington, who liked to sponsor charity golf tournaments, figuring that he was a worthy enough cause. And Charles Kushner, who hired a prostitute to sleep with a potentially hostile witness. (The witness was Kushner's brother-in-law.)

And then there was Hudson county official Bill Braker.

"When he was shaking down this one particular doctor, who was trying to get a contract with Hudson county to provide health-care services, he said, 'Cash and unlimited scrips for Viagra,'" Christie said.

Those are just the bribe-takers. If you take into account the bribers, Christy's count is at about 175. Add up the officials prosecuted by New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram, the total is more than 200 Garden Staters on the take — or the give, as the case may be.

'Political Profiling?'

During Christie's time as New Jersey's U.S. attorney, the majority of the indicted office-holders have been Democrats.

Recently, Donald C. Shields, from the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and John F. Cragan, from Illinois State University, accounted for all of the public officials investigated by all U.S. attorneys across the country. They found that under the Bush administration, for every one Republican investigated, seven Democrats were investigated.

The professors say this is evidence of a form of "political profiling." But even the most prominent Democrats in New Jersey aren't crying foul.

Democrat Richard Codey, president of the New Jersey Senate, does not see a political witch-hunt. Rather, Cody thinks New Jersey is a Democratic state — and that means most of the politicians — honest and dishonest — will tend to be Democrats.

Cody places most of the blame for all this corruption on the dirty politicians themselves, but he also thinks that if the voters of New Jersey countenance corruption, they're no better than unindicted co-conspirators.

So far, the state has passed strong rules to govern executive branch employees and also created a program to encourage cleaner elections. New Jersey isn't in the top 10 of most corrupt states, according to some surveys, though it does have an extremely high profile.

So many politicians have been arrested and convicted that it's hard to keep them straight. Hearing the number is abstract. And listening to the names and charges is tedious — Stanley Young, bribes; Paul Zambrano, extortion; Patrick Malloy, obstruction of justice. So as a service to the voters of New Jersey — and with a doff of the fedora to local fella Frank Sinatra — we put together a little song dedicated to the officials who didn't "Get Away With It All."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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